Unsecured, unmaintained belt guard rail led to fatality: MSHA

JIM Walter Resources No. 7 operation in Alabama has been hit with two significant and substantial citations for shortfalls the US Mine Safety and Health Administration said led to the powered haulage death of a belt foreman in June.

Donna Schmidt

Christopher Brown, 36, was killed on June 6 at the JWR No. 7 longwall operations in Adger, Tuscaloosa County, when he placed his hand on a guard rail that gave way.

As a result, Brown fell onto an operating conveyor belt and was pulled between the small space separating the conveyor belt from the ridged belt skirting, resulting in fatal crushing injuries.

In its review of the accident location, federal investigators reviewed the metal posts and guard rails and found that a post on the conveyor belt side of the walkway was missing.

“With the post missing, there was no longer a means to secure the removable guard rail,” MSHA said.

“A horseshoe-shaped wire hanger, normally used to suspend electrical cables from the mine roof, was being used to secure the guard rail to the frame of the belt drive head roller structure.

“The hanger had been damaged and would no longer lock closed as designed.

“The hanger was being used to hold the guard rail in a manner so that only a slight amount of pressure would cause it to give way and swing outward over the 7-2B conveyor operating below.”

Officials also reviewed training records for the evening shift belt crew, including Brown, who had 4.5 years of mining experience but just 17 weeks of experience as evening shift belt foreman.

No discrepancies were found, and all records for Brown were up-to-date.

“The accident occurred because the guard rail installed at the end of the elevated ramp alongside the 7-2C belt discharge was not maintained and secured in a manner which would prevent persons from coming in contact with operating conveyor belts and conveyor belt components,” MSHA concluded in its investigation.

“The guard rail gave way when the belt foreman placed his hand on it, resulting in the foreman falling onto the 7-2B moving conveyor below.

“The accident occurred because the guard rail, instead of being properly secured, was kept in place by an unsecured, deformed, cable hanger in which the hand rail was sitting loosely [and] the mine operator failed to correct or post the hazardous condition located at the discharge of the 7-2C conveyor belt, which posed a fall hazard to anyone working in the area of this guard rail.”

To rectify the issue, mine management at JWR No. 7 initiated an examination of all installed belt guarding at required locations throughout the mine and new guarding was built at the accident site.

MSHA issued a 104(a) citation to Jim Walter Resources for a significant and substantial violation of 30 CFR Section 75.363(a) for its failure to correct or post a hazardous condition at the discharge of the 7-2C conveyor belt.

It also issued an S&S 104(a) citation for a violation of 30 CFR Section 75.1722(c) because the guard rail installed across the end of the elevated walkway at the discharge of the 7-2C conveyor belt was not securely in place.

Investigators also gave the operator a non-contributory 104(a) citation for a violation of 30 CFR Section 50.10(a) because the accident was not reported within the required 15-minute window.

Officials said the fatality occurred at approximately 6.15pm but according to its records it was alerted to the situation via the National Call Center Hotline at 6.48pm.

The union-represented JWR No. 7 mine, with a staff of 784, produces an average of 16,000 tonnes of raw coal per day.

The mine operates in the Blue Creek coal seam, with an average mining height of seven feet.

A regular safety and health inspection had been completed at the operation on March 28 and an E01 inspection was ongoing at the time of the accident.

The mine’s non-fatal days lost injury incidence rate for the mine for 2012 was 2.3, versus the national NFDL rate of 3.24.